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The Story of Ruth - a Writing Team Lesson Set for Sunday SchoolWelcome to The Story of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz—a Writing Team Lesson Set

Seven creative lesson plans and a special kid-friendly Ruth Storybook. The Ruth Bible Background and  Lesson Summaries are open to everyone. The lesson plans and Storybook are open to our amazing Supporting Members. Join now

Each lesson has adaptations for age, class size, and time availability. Designed for the Rotation Model and thoroughly adaptable to traditional programs, this set could also help you create an intergenerational event or a VBS. Writing Team

The Story of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz

Bible Background & Lesson Objectives



The Book of Ruth

Memory Verse:
Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. (Ruth 1:16, NIV)


Family, steadfastness, loyalty, honor, virtue, redemption, seeking protection and providing protection to others, and just treatment of the poor and “foreigners.”

Summary of Meaning

The story of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz begins as a story about steadfast love in the midst of tragedy and becomes an exemplary tale about two virtuous people who will become the great-grandparents of King David and ancestors of Jesus. If you ever wondered how David became “a man after God’s own heart,” it started with Ruth and Boaz! Without mentioning God, their story is a subtle reminder of how God's redeeming work continues through redeeming people.

On a personal level, the Book of Ruth is a story about family, loyalty, and protecting those in need—subjects that are as relevant today as ever. Unlike stories of other flawed Bible heroes (Jacob, Moses, and David, for example), the Book of Ruth depicts good people living godly lives without miracles or God's voice telling them what to do.

On a historical level, the Book of Ruth was written to remind the exiles returning from Babylon (and all of us) that "foreigners," "immigrants," and the poor should be treated with respect, and indeed are part of God's family tree. It also functions as an instructive genealogy of King David's "pedigree."

On a theological level, Boaz, Ruth, and Naomi's virtuous actions are a metaphor for God's relationship with Israel and an example to all of us. Eight different times in the Book of Ruth, Boaz is referred to as the Gaw-al' —a title that in Hebrew means "Guardian-Redeemer." Boaz is not only obligated by tradition to be the Guardian of his family, he goes out of his way to do so.

גָּאַל  Gaw-al' = "Guardian-Redeemer"

In addition to eight times in Ruth, the title of Gaw-al' is used 18 times in Leviticus and over 40 times in Isaiah to describe the role and work of God—our Guardian, Protector, and Redeemer. Like Boaz, God is our Guardian-Redeemer, the One who watches over us and the One to whom we humbly return seeking protection.

Ruth also acts as a Guardian-Redeemer when she:

  • pledges her steadfast love to Naomi, "Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay." (Ruth 1:16)
  • accompanies Naomi on the difficult journey back to Bethlehem.
  • gleans in the fields to provide for Naomi.
  • knows that her marriage to Boaz will provide Naomi with security in her old age.

Naomi's acceptance of Ruth and willingness to bring her Moabite daughter-in-law back to Bethlehem is also exemplary.

Connecting the Guardian-Redeemer dots in this story and other places in the Old Testament, we can see the thematic origins of Jesus' message of inclusion, care, protection, and redemption.

Jesus' very last words in Matthew echo Ruth's to Naomi,"Lo, I am with you always, even to the close of the age." (Mt 28:20)

Learn more about the phrase and role of "Guardian-Redeemer" below.

TAKE NOTE! Many English versions of the Bible translate Gaw-al' rather weakly, using terms like "kinsman" or "relative." Fortunately, the NIV gets it right by using "Guardian-Redeemer," which is one of the reasons we picked the NIV for this lesson. If your translation doesn't use the proper title, make sure you take time to teach its meaning.

Here's a terrific animated and narrated overview of the Book of Ruth for teachers:

This Set's Lesson Objectives:

  1. Students will be able to tell the Story of Ruth in their own words to the best of their ability.

  2. Students will be able to recite the memory verse ("Where you go...." Ruth 1:16) to the best of their ability, and understand that it is an example of how we should be steadfast in our relationships.

  3. Students understand the concept of  "Guardian-Redeemer," are able to identify people in their lives who function as such, and consider their role as a protector and redeemer within their own family and community.

  4. Students will know and believe that God (Jesus) goes with them too!—and is their Guardian-Redeemer.

Historical Setting and Significance:

The story of Ruth and Boaz takes place in the waning days of the era of Judges (circa 1100 B.C.) when Israel is essentially a group of hill country tribes surrounded by other tribes and religions. Ruth and Boaz are presented as exemplary “founding great-grandparents” of the Davidic dynasty.

Traditionally said to have been written by Samuel, scholars believe the story was crafted during or after the Babylonian Exile in the 6th century B.C., perhaps as a reminder to Israel's anti-foreigner impulses that its greatest king had a foreign ancestor, Ruth from Moab. In that way it served as a strong reminder (and rebuke) to both the returning Jews and those who had stayed behind during the Exile that it doesn't matter where you are from or where you have been; what matters to God is who you are and how you treat others.

Behind the story are a number of Levitical laws regarding inheritance and marriage that would have been understood by Ruth's Jewish readers. Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz are portrayed as navigating these requirements with exemplary virtue and kindness. Together, they and the great king they will eventually produce are a counterpoint to other voices in scripture and history that speak with a less redemptive tone toward outsiders and people "not born here."

That most of the story takes place in Bethlehem is a detail not lost on Jews or Christians, because this is the town and people who "are from of old, from ancient times" who will give birth to the Messiah:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me one who will have dominion over Israel,
whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”  (Micah 5:2)

Summary of the Story

Ruth the “foreigner” from Moab pledges steadfast loyalty to her mother-in-law Naomi amid their loss and uncertain future. Seeking protection, Ruth humbles herself before Boaz, a virtuous kinsman and their family’s Guardian-Redeemer who responds with kindness and protection (marriage). In addition to teaching us about virtue and inclusion, the very last word in the Book of Ruth signals another reason for telling a story about our faith family tree. That word is דָּוִֽד, "David" (Ruth 4:22), whose great-grandparents are none other than the virtuous Ruth and Boaz.

The story is organized using a classic and ancient storytelling format that today we would call a three-act play:

  1. The Setup, introducing the people and problem. Ruth Chapter 1.
  2. The Confrontation or "Dramatic Question"—will she or won't she? Chapters 2 and 3.*
  3. The Resolution, also known as the Climax or happy/tragic ending. Chapter 4.

    *Keep in mind that the four chapter divisions of Ruth were added MUCH later. Also keep in mind that shaping a story into a well-known form doesn't mean it's not true.

The story can be read in about 10 minutes. Here’s an overview of what’s in Ruth's four-chapter three-act play.

Chapter 1:

We meet Naomi and her husband Elimelech and their sons Mahlon and Chilion, who flee Bethlehem because of a famine and move to Moab where there is food and where their sons will marry two Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. Within ten years, Naomi's husband and sons are dead, and she prepares to release her two daughters-in-law back to their Moabite families and return to Bethlehem as an old, self-described “bitter” widow. But one daughter-in-law, Ruth, insists on staying with Naomi, famously saying:

Where you go I will go,
and where you stay I will stay.
Your people will be my people
and your God my God.

(Ruth 1:16, NIV)

Chapter 2:

Naomi has arrived back in Bethlehem with Ruth -- her foreign daughter-in-law. Ruth sets out to provide for them by gleaning behind the harvesters in a local field. She meets Boaz, an older relative of Naomi's and her dead father-in-law. Impressed by the story of her love and sacrifice for Naomi, Boaz tells his servants to leave behind extra stalks of grain for Ruth to glean and orders his workers not to give her trouble. Naomi praises Boaz' kindness to Ruth and identifies him to Ruth as the family's Guardian-Redeemer.

Chapter 3:

Naomi instructs Ruth saying, “wash, put on perfume and fresh clothes, and when Boaz has fallen asleep on the threshing floor where he has been working all day go lie at his feet, and when he awakes, he will tell you what to do.” In effect, Ruth is making herself presentable and available for marriage.

When Boaz awakes, he praises Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi and their family, and promises to fulfill his obligation as the family’s Guardian-Redeemer by marrying Ruth.

Chapter 4:

Boaz convenes the tribal elders at the town gate and settles with another closer member of the family who releases his obligation to marry the widow Ruth by giving his sandal to Boaz (an ancient tradition). Boaz marries Ruth and they have a baby boy named Obed, who will be the father of Jesse, who will be the father of King David. Boaz' exemplary virtue would later become enshrined in the Temple itself when his great-great-grandson Solomon named one of the two Temple pillars guarding the Temple entrance after him.

Insights and Word Studies

The Bible is at its best when it is telling stories, and few stories are as compelling and full of hope as the story of Naomi the destitute Jewish widow, Ruth her widowed Moabite daughter-in-law, and Boaz the virtuous older man from the tribe of Benjamin who agrees to marry Ruth. Their story teaches us that being virtuous and steadfast is its own blessing. And it reminds us that God works through trouble and tragedy, good people, and key moments to fulfill his promises.

All three had known loss. Naomi lost her husband Elimelech and her two sons Mahlon and Chilion. Ruth lost her first husband. And the older Boaz was undoubtedly widowed himself. (Ancient rabbis held that it would have been unthinkable for a tribal leader like Boaz to have been unmarried, as explained in the Midrash.)

Though Ruth is a foreigner from neighboring Moab, there is little in the story itself to suggest that being a foreigner was a problem for Boaz and the people of Bethlehem. Though some modern retellings have the townspeople murmuring or raising their eyebrows at Ruth, the scripture doesn't mention it (perhaps as a way of making "foreign status" a non-issue). Rather, it’s Ruth's status as a poor unattached widow without a protector that's the problem for both her and Naomi, based on the social and economic traditions of their day. Boaz is the first to address this problem when he tells his workers not to bother her.

Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz’ story is also a wonderful example of how the Bible allows different voices to speak within it. Where other parts of the Old Testament vociferously oppose marriage to foreign wives and Ezra will even attempt to force Jewish men to divorce their foreign wives (Ezra 10:10-11), Ruth’s story unabashedly reminds us that King David’s great-grandmother was a foreigner.

Ruth's story also gives voice to women in the Bible and Church whose stories are under-represented (and sometimes mistreated). Ruth's story is the embodiment of "the noble woman" described in the powerful prose of Proverbs 31:10-31. It probably isn't a coincidence that Boaz calls Ruth "noble" in Ruth 3:11, using "hayil" which is the same word that Proverbs 31:10 uses to describe the virtuous woman.

More about the Gaw-al' -- The “Guardian-Redeemer”

Eight times in the story of Ruth, Boaz is referred to as the “Gaw-al'” –which the NIV properly translates as “Guardian-Redeemer.” A Gaw-al' or Guardian-Redeemer was a close, influential relative to whom members of the extended family could turn for help. It could include paying another’s debts or buying their land to keep it within the family. And in some circumstances, it could also include marrying a widow to protect her honor and secure her future. Some translations use less explanatory words such as “next of kin” or “kinsman” which don’t carry the full legal and redeeming sense of the fifty other passages in the Bible where Gaw-al’ is translated as “redeemer.” The only question is whether or not Boaz will fulfill his responsibilities as the Gaw-al', which of course he does.

The role of Gaw-al’ is patterned after God’s own responsibilities as head of our family. God is the one we can turn to, the one who forgives or pays our debts, the one who protects us. The prophet Isaiah uses Gaw-al’ as a title for God 25 times. Wherever you see the word “Redeemer” in Isaiah, it’s most likely the Hebrew word Gaw-al’. “Thus saith the LORD, thy Redeemer (the Gaw-al’), the Holy One of Israel” (Is 48:17), and “The Redeemer (The Gaw-al’) shall come to Israel” (Isaiah 59:20).

Of course, if the role of Guardian-Redeemer is good enough for God and Boaz, then it’s meant to be an example to us too!

  • How do each of us “protect” our family members? Our friends? The dispossessed and destitute?
  • What daily actions and words can remind people that you are someone they can look to for safety, protection, and help?

(Note: Gaw-al' is sometimes spelled "Go-el" and pronounced "Ga-el")

"Where you go, I will go"

The heart of the story is found in Ruth's famous pledge to her mother-in-law Naomi found in Ruth 1:16 -- "Where you go, I will go." Throughout the Book of Ruth, Ruth also acted like a Guardian toward Naomi, and the sentiment of her words in 1:16 are the same attitude a Guardian would have -- you are not alone, I am with you.

Ruth's Hebrew is very brief, memorable, and rather fun to say. Here’s a shortened form of the verse phonetically spelled out:

Asher teleki, elek
(Where you go, I will go)

Uba asher talini, alin
(Where you lodge, I will lodge)

Ammek ammi
(Your people (will be) my people)

We-lo-hay-yik, e-lo-hay
(Your God, will be my God)

The chapter about "gleaning" (Ruth 2)

Each chapter of the story offers some famous verses and memorable scenes. Chapter 1 has the pledge: "where you go I will go." Chapter 2 features the wonderful scene of Ruth gleaning behind the harvesters in Boaz' field. Chapter 3 finds Ruth lying at Boaz' feet. Chapter 4 has the "sandal pledge" and marriage.

Behind the gleaning scene in chapter 2 is the Law of Moses in Leviticus 19 which requires harvesters to leave something behind for "the poor and foreigner." But Boaz the Gaw-al' goes the extra mile when he is told that Ruth is the Moabite daughter-in-law of Naomi his long-lost kinswoman. Hearing their story, Boaz invites Ruth to eat at his table (which is faintly reminiscent of the parable of the uninvited guest in Luke 7:36-50), orders his workers not to harass Ruth, and tells them to give her extra grain. When Naomi hears of it, she exclaims, “The Lord bless him! ...He has not stopped showing his kindness. And then Naomi identifies Boaz to Ruth as one of their family's Guardian-Redeemers. (Ruth 2:20)

On its own, the gleaning scene seems like a wonderful story about sharing your food with others, and indeed, many Sunday School lessons simply teach it as such. But there's a much bigger picture here. When you add them all together -- the Levitical imperative to "leave extra" for others, Boaz' invitation to Ruth to sit at his table, his promise of protection, and his going beyond the Levitical requirement by giving her more than leftovers, the chapter becomes a template for what a Gaw-al' is and does -- and by example, how we should act toward others in need.  In this way, "letting people glean the leftovers" is only the beginning of how we are to guard and redeem one another. (Like Boaz and Jesus, we are to invite them to our table and share our abundance.)

Hidden away in the gleaning scene is a surprise reference to the imagery behind the word Gaw-al' and foreshadowing of the threshing floor scene that's coming in chapter 3. In Ruth 2:12, Boaz says, "May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” This reference to wings and refuge are the Gaw-al'/Redeemer's wings and promise of protection found in Psalm 91. See more about that below!

Ruth 3: 5-11 ~ The part about Ruth “lying at Boaz’ feet”

A lot has been written about a possible euphemism for sex implied by the scene in chapter 3 when Ruth lays at the feet of the sleeping Boaz. This scheme created by Naomi suggests to some that she wanted to create a situation that would force Boaz to marry Ruth, and Ruth went along with it. But that is not what happened. Ruth does physically lay at Boaz’ feet, but the threshing floor was a public space, not a romantic getaway. When Boaz wakes up and finds her there, she asks to be “covered by his robe” which harkens back to Boaz' "wings and refuge" blessing in Ruth 2:12 and the "wings and refuge" imagery of the Redeemer in Psalm 91. ( See the word study below about the meaning of "cover" and its imagery.)

When Boaz sees Ruth humbling herself and asking to be protected, he once again praises Ruth for her “noble character.” He undoubtedly understands that her bold move is a proposal for marriage and not a one-night stand.

Frankly, it would have been unthinkable for Boaz to have relations with Ruth at the very public threshing floor—especially because, as he notes, there is another kinsman with a claim to her. Boaz had too much to lose. So why did Boaz invite Ruth to stay until the morning? Probably to keep an unattached woman from having to risk being discovered outside in the middle of the night. Like the revelation of Ruth’s virtuous character when she commits to Naomi, the threshing floor scene reveals the character of Ruth AND Boaz.

For more about this threshing floor scene, read Rabbi Sabato’s article.

Other Interesting Hebrew Words and Images Behind Chapter 3's Threshing Floor Scene

Shiphchah and A’mah
When Ruth first met Boaz in the fields, she identified herself using the Hebrew word shiphchah which means “lower than the lowest servant” (Ruth 2:13). But in chapter 3 on the threshing floor at the feet of Boaz, Ruth describes herself as an a'mah, a term used for a woman eligible to be a wife or concubine. In effect, she’s asking Boaz to marry her.

Kaw-nawf  -- "covering of your garment" = “wings”
In chapter 3 when Ruth asks Boaz on the threshing floor to “Spread the corner of your garment over me” (Ruth 3:9), she is not asking Boaz to cuddle with her. Instead, in the Hebrew she literally asks Boaz to "spread his (protective) wings over me." The word "cover" used by Ruth is kaw-nawf' in Hebrew. And kaw-nawf is translated 74 other times in the Bible as “wings” --a metaphor for protection most often ascribed to God. In fact, Ruth is echoing Boaz's praise that he gave to Ruth in Ruth 2:12 when he says, “May you be richly rewarded by the God of Israel under whose wings you have to come to take refuge.”

Hebrew readers would have heard this "wings" connection and undoubtedly recalled the words of Psalm 91 where the protective wings of the Redeemer are beautifully described:

 Psalm 91 wings

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
he is my God, and I trust him.

He will cover you with his feathers.
He will shelter you with his wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection.

Psalm 91  (v 1, 2, 4 NLT)

Final Thoughts

God doesn't appear or speak in the Book of Ruth.
There are no miracles or visions. But God is all over their story, showing us how respect and love for one another make us part of God's redeeming work.

The Bethlehem, David, Jesus Connection
Bethlehem means "House of Bread" and was home to several of the Bible's greatest heroes, including Ruth and Boaz, David, and Jesus the Messiah himself! "House" is also a Hebrew metaphor for "family" or "lineage." Ruth and Boaz' family were a "house of bread" to the nation that eventually produced the very "Bread of Life" himself. It is a town and family that continues to nourish us.

Of course there is more to say. And that is one of the miracles in the story of Ruth; it is the gift that keeps on giving.

Written by Rev. Neil MacQueen with the Writing Team
Copyright Inc.

Original Ruth artwork courtesy of John August Swanson Studios;
the set "logo" is a version of the original taken from our printable storybook.


Images (3)
  • ruth1
  • WTRuth-Logo1c
  • Psalm 91 wings: click to enlarge
Last edited by Wormy the Helpful Worm
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During the creation and reading of the Bible Background, Writing Team members Samantha and Neil discussed the connection between the Jewish festival of Shavuot and the Story of Ruth.

Member Samantha posted:

Here's a fun cultural rabbit hole:

Modern-day Jews read the book of Ruth each year when they celebrate Shavuot (Feast of Weeks or Harvest) which occurs some 7 weeks after Passover. They do this because the Book of Ruth says that Ruth arrived in Israel at the time of the barley harvest, which is when Shavuot was celebrated. However, Shavuot has become a festival about the acceptance of the Law/Torah on Mt. Sinai. Ruth's acceptance into the Jewish faith was seen to be analogous (source), but her story is not emphasized, the Torah is.

Interestingly, Shavuot is the festival happening in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit gives birth to the Church at Pentecost (Pentecost meaning 50 days = 7 weeks after Passover).

There's also a "wedding contract theme" between God and his people on Sinai with the acceptance of the Torah, to Ruth and Boaz' marriage, to Pentecost & the church.

Member Neil replied:

Great stuff, Sam. I went down that same Shavuot rabbit-hole hoping to find more of a connection to the Ruth story -- like some feast practices or foods we could use in a lesson. But other than the "reading" of Ruth at the Festival of Harvest, it's mostly centered around the Torah. (Maybe if Ruth had been a man "he" would have been more celebrated?)

What's interesting is that the Law of Moses does figure into Boaz' part of the story where he allows gleaning and has the responsiblity of being a Guardian Redeemer in his tribe. But alas, Shavuot has become more Torah-centered than perhaps it once was.

As you note, what's fascinating is that Christian Pentecost REVIVES Shavuot's "harvest" theme in an evangelical way (i.e. harvesting souls) -- but without any mention of Ruth.

Perhaps for Christian teaching purposes, the Festival of Harvest/Weeks that includes the Day of Pentecost could be repurposed to celebrate what it was originally intended for -- celebrating the work of harvest, the welcome to gleaners, embrace of immigrants and widows (poor), and the blessing of abundance and sustenance for all.

Those themes are certainly in Ruth in a variety of ways, including the gleaning episode and Boaz' generosity. It could also illuminate the meaning of Bethlehem in Hebrew as "The House of Bread" in both literal and figurative ways. In that respect, every church should be a "house of bread" both literally and figuratively.

Alas... a lesson set for children can't chase down every rabbit!

Last edited by Neil MacQueen

Thoughts on how kids can be Guardian-Redeemers

Here are some ways that kids can be Guardian-Redeemers in their families, schools, and communities. Feel free to add your ideas!

  1. Help those in need: Kids can offer help to those in need in their families and communities, such as the elderly, sick, or disabled. They can volunteer their time to help out at a local shelter, food bank, or charity.

  2. Stand up against injustice: Kids can speak out against injustice in their families and communities. They can stand up against bullying, racism, and discrimination. They can also support causes they believe in, such as protecting the environment or ending racism.

  3. Be a positive role model: Kids can be positive role models for their siblings, friends, and classmates. They can lead by example, showing kindness, respect, and empathy toward others, and can encourage others not to judge or gossip.

  4. Practice forgiveness: Kids can practice forgiveness towards those who have hurt them or others in their families and communities. They can learn to let go of grudges and work towards reconciliation.

  5. Support their families: Kids can support their families by taking on responsibilities such as helping with household chores, caring for younger siblings, or being there for their parents when they need them.

  6. Protect the dignity and well-being of others: Kids can get adult help when someone's safety or health is at risk. Guardian-Redeemers don't make fun of others; they listen, console, connect.

By taking actions like these suggestions, kids can become Guardian-Redeemers in their families and communities, making a positive difference in the lives of others.

Ian Grimm is Children's Minister at Hope Fellowship in Texas. He is a member of's Ruth Writing Team.

For practical suggestions of possible mission and outreach projects to extend the idea of kids as Guardian-Redeemers, take a look at the Writing Team's Parable of the Good Samaritan Mission & Outreach Suggestions.

Last edited by Wormy the Helpful Worm

Hollywood Ruth and Bachelor Boaz

Musings on the images and misguided impressions that may have shaped our understanding of the Ruth and Boaz story.

Many of us who grew up in the 60s and 70s learned some of our Bible stories from movies like The Ten Commandments and Jesus of Nazareth. Along with those retellings of Bible stories came the depiction and objectification of women by that Hollywood era, and it wasn't great. As this movie art clearly shows, Ruth and her story were sexualized to sell tickets. I remember seeing this movie as a youngster, and later even teaching with excerpts from it in Sunday School back. Back then our media choices were few and far between.


Of course, the 1960s doesn't have an exclusive hold on this point of view about Ruth and women in general.  In this next painting from the 1920s, Ruth looks like "the pretty sister-in-law" standing there in the dirt in her flowing robes.

See more depictions of Ruth in art. It is a wonderful webpage with some better examples of artists who "got it" alongside those who missed it. Vanderbilt's Art in the Christian Tradition webpage also has an assortment of portrayals.


The Christian church, and purveyors of Biblical art and media in general, have had a long and unfortunate history of portraying women in the Bible. Take Mary of Magdala (the Magdalene), for example. For centuries the Church portrayed one of the most famous women in the New Testament as a "fallen woman," even though nothing in the actual scriptures suggests anything of the sort.

There's absolutely nothing in scripture to suggest that Ruth was a fallen woman, but that's how the 1960 portrayed her. In some people's minds, Ruth must have been a beauty to catch the eye of Boaz the eligible bachelor -- especially if portrayed as he was by Hollywood hunk, Stuart Whitman. It's a popular trope to see a destitute widow as a woman in need of romantic attention. Chagall in the 1960s even went so far as to show Ruth naked at Boaz' feet (the full image I'm not at liberty to display here). Too bad Chagall didn't stop to think what a threshing floor WAS -- which is an open air community space, and not a romantic rendevous.

The over-sexualization of Ruth's nighttime visit to the threshing floor is a common theme in historical and modern interpretations. Boaz is startled by her appearance there, but not shocked -- which is what you would expect from a man of godly reputation and community standing in those days, and a meeting that took place in a public workspace.

Some people would have us believe that Ruth was throwing herself at Boaz, but it hardly seems like a qualification for marriage, especially coming from a foreigner, and especially considering what Boaz has at stake. In a small tribe, reputation is everything. The scene gets further from the truth if you don't know what she was doing by holding the corner of his blanket. In the Hebrew, she is literally holding his "wing" -- a direct reference to the blessing he gave her in Ruth 2:19. It is a religious reminder of his Levitical obligation as her family's Guardian. Ruth is no gold-digger or dummy.

All this is why it's no surprise to me that many of the children's animated stories about Ruth carry on the tradition of Ruth as a love object and Boaz as "in love."  Consider, for example, the "Story of Ruth" by Nest Entertainment. Its producer/writers were Richard Rich and Brian Nissen, two men who grew up in the 50s and 60s. I'm okay with a bit of a love story, but not to the diminution of other important aspects of the story or of Ruth and Boaz' characters and backstories, please.  (This tendency to turn Ruth in to a "love story" also made it hard to find good animated videos for this lesson.)

The problem with turning "Beautiful Ruth into a bride for Bachelor Boaz" is that it diminishes other aspects of the story, such as the virtuous commitment that each of the three main characters displays.  Emphasizing a love-sick bachelor, as some videos do, overshadows the biblical theme of  Guardian-Redeemer, which Boaz is referred to eight times in the book. (The Guardian-Redeemer title also applies to Ruth. See the Bible Background above for more about this.)  It's also not biblical. In fact, it's a bit insulting to Boaz that some people automatically assume he is "eyeing" the new girl in his field, rather than simply noticing a poor person and rewarding someone who he has heard helped a member of his family (Naomi).

Making Ruth a love-interest also opens the door to suggestions that she is some kind of gold-digger or that women are "incomplete" without a husband (which are familiar misogynist themes). What they were doing was living within the rules and needs of that particular place and time. Marriage in those days was not entirely the way we think of it today. It wasn't primarily about love and romance, it was a form of legal protection for women and their children and their inheritance. It was a necessary social safety net in a pre-modern world. In many cultures and countries today, they would not need a man's help to survive. An indeed, if this weren't a "royal genealogy," we could imagine Ruth and Naomi simply living in peace within the protection and generosity of "old" Boaz' family. Ruth did marry him, thank God, because that's how we get to David.

Hollywood wasn't the first to over-do the romance. "Ruth Rabbah," a very influential rabbinical commentary based on writings that go back to the Maccabean times (200 BC), makes Boaz out to be a virile 80-year-old! (Read more about Ruth Rabbah.) These "writings" aren't scripture, but they are entertaining, and probably say more about the old men who wrote and debated them, than they do about the real Boaz.

Speaking about Boaz...
It is equally wrong
to make the Book of Ruth only about the women in it. Boaz plays a key role, and not just that of "the donor." He is the "male Ruth" in the story, with just as much to lose if he marries the wrong person or does the wrong thing at the threshing floor.

He is, in fact, exactly the kind of person every father hopes his children will marry, if marrying is what they want to do. Boaz' title and responsibility as Guardian Redeemer is also an unmistakable analogy for God—how God rescues, redeems, and "covers" us. This isn't to diminish Ruth. She's already laid claim to the role of Guardian when she promises, "Where you go, I will go...."  Boaz is simply catching up with her virtue in chapter 4.

In Ruth chapter 2, Boaz is impressed when he first hears about Ruth's care for Naomi his kinswoman. Being a man of the same virtue, it's no wonder that he wanted to meet this stranger in his field, not to mention that it was his business to know who was on his land, and was obliged to help the poor by letting them glean. Nothing in the Book of Ruth says anything about their appearance, it's all about their character.

In today's world, Ruth could have been just as virtuous and respectable as a single mom or a sole provider for her aged mother-in-law or a hardworking immigrant arriving in town.

And today, Boaz could have been just as virtuous by being the one who watched out for his relatives Ruth and Naomi and who helped others in time of need—just like any virtuous family member of means should do.

God's will is not dependent on bloodlines. Together or apart, their faith would have shaped the community to produce the next Obed and Jesse and David born from any woman or man.  Indeed, once upon a time, God found favor with an unmarried pregnant girl, and redeemed the whole world through her child.

Who doesn't love a good love story?
Apparently, the writers of Ruth didn't! This could have been a lot spicer if that was their intention. Truth is, there's very little within the Book of Ruth to suggest a romantic relationship between Ruth and Boaz. No, the official story of Ruth, the one in the Bible, portrays a virtuous woman seeking the protection and security of marriage in a land and time when such things couldn't be ignored or taken for granted (and still can't in many parts of the world). No pagan priestess beauty converting to Judaism. No roll in the hay with a Hollywood heartthrob.

Did Boaz like Ruth? Apparently and what's not to like. But then, according to the norms of the day he could have just made her a servant or concubine. But virtuous hard-working women, like virtuous hard-working men, don't grow on trees, and as a clan leader in Bethlehem, he would have seen her as an asset.

Could Ruth have held out for another man to marry her? That's an interesting question. But it seems obvious from scripture that he's the kind of man worth marrying.

Could Ruth have made it on her own? Maybe. But she had Naomi to take care of, and the role of women was severely restricted in those days. That makes her decision to seek out Boaz smart, if not sacrificial.

The Bible and theology suggest that they were literally a "match made in heaven." And while I understand that theologically, I have problems accepting the idea that God is a matchmaker. It's too interventionist to me, and raises all sorts of ugly questions about the other "matches made in heaven" that end in marital hell. Rather, the Book of Ruth goes out of its way to say that the two of them saw the worthiness in each other.

I have no doubt God can raise kings from stones if need be. But from a family-legacy perspective, the story of Ruth and Boaz does show that the example of virtue can be passed through families like a gift. And that's something we can all be thankful to God for -- and work on!

This is a personal addendum to the Ruth Bible Background. I hope it has stimulated your thoughts and moves you to more closely examine the stories that shape our faith.  ~Neil MacQueen


Images (5)
  • Story of Ruth 1960 movie
  • Hunky Boaz??
  • Ruth and Boaz meet
  • Ruth Chagall
  • Philip_Hermogenes_Calderon_-_Ruth_and_Naomi_-_B2010.27.8_-_Yale_Center_for_British_Art-823x630
Last edited by Neil MacQueen

I particularly appreciate the link to the Midrash discussion about the threshing room floor debate. When we are deconstructing or deciphering, it's helpful to get more background. I'm excited to start this rotation in September!

Thanks for the rich exploration of the book of Ruth, which as always is thorough and insightful!

Editor's note: Sharp-eyed Kristi had included a note about an error in the Bible background, about which of Naomi's sons Ruth had married. Thanks, Kristi for pointing out this error! We've corrected it.

Last edited by CreativeCarol

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